Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review: Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

SUMMARY: When Travis returns home from a stint in Afghanistan, his parents are splitting up, his brother’s stolen his girlfriend and his car, and he’s haunted by nightmares of his best friend’s death. It’s not until Travis runs into Harper, a girl he’s had a rocky relationship with since middle school, that life actually starts looking up. And as he and Harper see more of each other, he begins to pick his way through the minefield of family problems and post-traumatic stress to the possibility of a life that might resemble normal again. Travis’s dry sense of humor, and incredible sense of honor, make him an irresistible and eminently lovable hero.


Raw, aching, beautiful, thrilling, enamoring, sweet and funny. This book goes through such a range of emotions, and shifts between them so fluidly. I cried reading this one, and I’m not someone who cries easily. But Doller has such a way with words, putting so much into so few words, packing a powerful punch. Something Like Normal gutted me and put me back together, and left me a better person for it. This is a book that has challenged me and opened my eyes, and one that is truly a must read for everyone.

I adore Travis. Okay, so he’s a jerk sometimes, and he definitely has his flaws. But he is so loyal and devoted, so determined and intelligent. I understood him so well, every step of the way and without having to try. Doller has built him so fabulously, showing us this brash young man at the start who keeps everyone and everything at arm’s length and changing him into something else, yet still being the same overall person. His motivations, reactions, and drives were all perfectly scripted, yet lurking underneath the bigger stuff. Even when he couldn’t see it, as a reader, I could, and yet I stayed right beside him and in his head the entire time, never really feeling as though I had access to some extra information he didn’t. His entire character arc is one of the best I’ve read, stunning and passionate and intense.

Then there’s Harper, a girl who I admit I have a girl crush on. She is amazing, the kind of girl who will put herself first in terms of not being a doormat or taking the hit for something just to avoid confrontation, yet she is also far from selfish or someone who will let others hurt needlessly. Needing time to herself to work through things, but not requiring major apologizes when someone’s done her wrong, Harper is the kind of person I think so many people should strive to be like, at least partly. Definitely someone who makes Travis want to be better, and a total asset to those who know her, Harper is one of my favorite characters ever. Add in the romance that grows between her and Travis, the way they interact and change and effect each other, and this is a pairing that I will always hold dear and remember fondly.

There is an unabashed honesty to this one, both in Travis’ view of the world and mindset, and in the unflinchingly realistic look into not only life in a war zone but what it’s like to come back as well. With stunning imagery, fabulous descriptions, and an emotional intensity that was infused in the words because of the actual writing without relying on an overly emotional narrator, this one had me gripped and engaged from page one and didn’t let go. From the perfectly timed lines of comedic relief to wrenching and sorrow filled scenes to electric and sweet ones, this one has an authentic feel to it both in style and voice that is hard to accurately describe.

Particularly when it comes to the war aspects of this book, Doller has done her research and honed her descriptions. Things that I didn’t think were a big deal are cast into a different light through Travis’ eyes, and watching him struggle with trying to get back into his old life, fit in with his own family, and endure the memories of what he’s been through has an amazing depth and progression to it. Such care has clearly been taking with the Marine lifestyle of this book, and Doller has done it right. Despite the overall set up being something I in no way have experienced, I related to Travis so instinctively, and was able to see things the way he does without any issue. Absolutely a book I will reread, and one that I will think back on plenty, Something Like Normal is a stunning and poignant debut from a majorly talented author.

Source: Netgalley 
Reading level: Ages 14 and up 
Hardcover: 224 pages 
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: June 19, 2012


  1. Thanks for the review, I can't wait to read this one!

  2. This sounds amazing! The characters seem exactly like the kind I love! Great review! :)

  3. This sounds really good. I loved your review!

  4. I love books in which the characters grow as the story progresses and from your review, it seems that Travis grew a lot in the course of the book. Also, protagonists who have a rocky relationship and conflicting interests are the most intense to read about.

    I will surely read Something Like Normal now, Kari. I love the way you explored Travis and Harper in your review.

    Sana @ artsy musings of a bibliophile